Some local published writers are worried about the poor bookselling and distribution methods used by the booksellers whom they would have engaged directly or indirectly. The writers said much remains to be done, as some booksellers have failed to function professionally and the book outlets are dwindling.
An agitated discussion of this issue loomed during a Zimbabwe Writers Association-organised double book launch held on Thursday afternoon at one of the ZIBF gazebos in the Harare Gardens.
Award-winning Zukiswa Warner and her fellow South African writer Niq Mhlongo were launching their new titles “Hardly Working”, a book inspired by travels across Africa, and “Soweto Under The Apricot Tree”, short story anthology, respectively.
While the two international writers were glad to launch their books in Harare, local writers present had a burning issue against booksellers, their crucial partners in the industry.
Renowned poet Albert Nyathi said that books are not being made accessible for purchase to the readers. “Big book outlets in Zimbabwe, those that we used to depend on, are now becoming selective in their choice of books to sell.
“For instance, readers of fiction and poetry, when they want to purchase a book, are now directly depending on the writers. As writers, we are worried,” said Nyathi.
He asked Warner and Mhlongo how else they have managed to reach out to readers in their country. Mhlongo said South African writers at least enjoy a supportive book distribution and promotion environment.
Book clubs, for instance, have helped bring readers close to the authors and making them (the readers) want to read and buy the books.
“Book clubs are mushrooming in South Africa and these have made the reader dialogue easily with the writer, creating interest in the reader to buy the book,” said Mhlongo.
Warner, who has published six adult books including the latest “Hardly Working”, and some children’s literature, urged the writers to consider new ways of connecting with the reader.
Yet in Zimbabwe, the book industry is struggling to become organic. Corruption has sipped in, affecting the writer.
ZWA chairperson Monica Cheru said she knows of a certain local publisher who now evades professional booksellers and prefers directly supplying the so-called book pirates in the streets. In the end, accountability is affected.
The insincerity of some booksellers is disheartening also, especially when the booksellers take advantage of a self-published writer, said Tendai Maduwa.
He narrated how some time ago, when after the launch of one of his books, he autographed about 50 books which he confirmed had been bought but he was devastated when he followed up to the bookseller after some days only to be told they had sold three books.
In a brief interview after the launch, Albert Nyathi said he thinks all writers’ associations in the country should come together and address all these issues affecting writers.
“If we want to normalise the situation, let’s come together as writers and work with the National Arts Council.
“We can persuade the popular shops such as OK Stores to have a corner in their shops where they sell our books. That way availability of our books would be guaranteed. Let us writers be accessible,” said Nyathi.
The launch was attended by about 20 writers, including Tinashe Muchuri and Nomsa Tsitsi Ngwenya. A few budding writers were also present.
The two South African authors, Warner and Mhlongo, who also read samples from their new books, must have really enjoyed a different kind of Zimbabwean literary hospitality as they proceeded to an evening celebration of the same books at award-winning writer Petina Gappah’s home in Highlands, Harare.